Invasive cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the developed world. Nevertheless, tumour immune-therapy has made dramatic improvements in recent years, saving the lives of cancer patients who just a few years ago would have been considered untreatable. This has to a major part been achieved by the development of drugs that enhance the immune responses of cancer patients against their tumours1. In particular, the so-called “check-point inhibitors” that target the immune system’s internal regulation have found great success in clinical application.
Such clinical successes have led to a paradigm shift in the way we treat cancer patients. These clinical successes demonstrate that the patient’s own immune system is capable of controlling tumour growth, but that the tumour-intrinsic immune-suppressive environment may allow the tumour to escape immune surveillance. Mainly CD4 T-cells that express the transcription factor FoxP3, so-called regulatory T-cells (Tregs), are thereby an important means by which tumours create an internal immune-suppressive environment2,3,4. Thus, it is now generally accepted that the efficacy of tumour treatment in cancer patients is pivotally dependent on the ability of the treatment to shift the immune-suppressive environment within tumours towards a pro-inflammatory environment and to tilt the balance between tumour-residential effector T-cells and Tregs in favour of effector T-cells. This paradigm shift initiated by the clinical success of “check-point inhibitors” has a few years ago been appreciated for instance by SCIENCE magazine as being THE scientific break-through of the year5.
Nevertheless, all “check-point inhibitors” currently approved for clinical application are based on technology that has been used for more than 40 years, i.e. monoclonal antibody treatment. Furthermore, the clinical application of these “check-point inhibitors” is that it is accompanied by severe side effects in treated patients. These side effects, like inflammation of the intestines (colitis), can be severe (grade III-IV) and at times can lead to treatment-associated deaths6. It is imperative to improve the efficacy of current immune-therapeutic treatments in order to respond to major social and economic needs.
In order to be able to achieve such a goal within Europe, an appropriate human and technological infrastructure has to be created. Therefore this training network aims, firstly, to create novel technology platforms that can be used to develop new forms of delivery, creatively incorporating the newest developments in antibody technology; and, secondly, to train a new generation of highly qualified researchers able to combine knowledge of the complete process of drug development – including profound fundamental immunological knowledge, expertise in state-of-the art biotechnology, knowledge in drug development and regulatory approval as well as in clinical trial design – as well as of critical aspects biotechnology entrepreneurship.